4 things distributors want from a utility’s midstream program

Distributors are vital to driving energy efficiency programs. Make sure they have the tools they need to make a utility midstream program successful.

No one enjoys filling out forms. Or troubleshooting obscure error messages. Or waiting to hear back on incentive approvals—or worse, denials. 

But when it comes to the typical utility midstream tool, the user experience is often fraught with unwieldy forms and manual processes—where a single error can delay multiple transactions, stalling rebate and incentive payments and creating a cash flow bottleneck for distributors.  

Distributor participation is a vital way for utilities to drive clean energy programs. Unfortunately, for many distributors, the administrative hassle and financial risks of incentive processing outweigh the benefits of participation.  

To advance clean energy, utilities must make incentive programs less risky and more user friendly. And that means listening to distributor feedback and designing midstream tools to support the way they do business. 

As the product owner for EVOLVE Midstream, I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing and incorporating distributor feedback inputs into our portal. Below I’ll share four key components distributors tell us they want in a midstream portal—components we’ve already incorporated into EVOLVE Midstream

1. Verification with confidence 

There are a variety of products and customers in the marketplace and matching products to the right incentives and navigating eligibility requirements can be confusing. Manufacturer names and model numbers are written in many different ways, as are customer names and addresses. 

To guide sales strategies, distributors must be able to easily narrow down the list of incentivized products to find the specific ones that fit their business model—and confirm customer eligibility at the point of sale to feel confident they will be reimbursed for the incentives they offer. If an eligibility tool isn’t smart about employing multiple pathways to finding matches, with an intuitive interface, a distributor may not appreciate the broad impact of program participation. 

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2. Responsive, easy-to-use portal

Distributors are busy, and a steep learning curve or cumbersome interfaces for submitting transactions for reimbursement can be a deal breaker. Making the process easy must be a priority. Minimize the learning curve by providing a familiar process flow and interfaces with clear instructions.  

While an intuitive interface guides data quality from the point of entry, the reality is that many distributors bulk upload transaction data from their sales database, which can introduce errors into the data stream. If they experience errors when their data enters the midstream portal, they don’t want to be left guessing where and why the error occurred and how to fix it. Nor do they want to spend two days troubleshooting via email with the utility.  

That’s where responsive validation comes in—an important functionality that is often overlooked by traditional midstream portals. Responsive validation uses a clear graphical interface to surface errors and provide specific instructions to help the distributor resolve issues and move on. Real-time validation lets distributors fix errors immediately.  

Additionally, the portal should accommodate the way a distributor does business. For example, a distributor may not have sophisticated databases, so when it comes time to enter rebate and incentive applications into a midstream program, the process must be simple and accommodate whatever sales reporting capacity they have. Whether they prefer to upload a transaction report from their database or manually enter individual transactions, the choice should be theirs. And again, the learning curve should be easy and the process quick and painless, or distributors won’t participate. Guidance should come up as it is needed, and be customized to the situation, rather than blanket instructions. 

3. Fast-track incentive processing 

Rebates and incentives enable distributors to lower prices without cutting into their profit margin. But until a rebate application is approved and the check is in hand, the distributor is floating the difference. A primary way to expedite payments is through automation. A midstream portal should automate as many background processes as possible, such as quality checks and manual handoffs, to speed up processing time.  

Additionally, make sure that one problematic transaction does not delay an entire batch. Unfortunately, a standard rebate program will process applications in batches, and if one transaction has an issue, it can hold up the rest, delaying payments to the distributor. Separate out problematic transactions into their own batch for resolution, so the rest of the transactions can be processed faster.  

4. Insights to help distributors drive sales 

EVOLVE Midstream provides dashboards and reports that provide insights to help distributors compete more effectively and expand market share. Peer-comparison scorecards enable distributors to benchmark rebated product sales against competitors by manufacturer and product. Insights can be used to identify untapped opportunities and adjust sales strategies to reach their targets. Reports can be segmented as needed to surface the most relevant insights.  

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EVOLVE Midstream: Built around distributors’ needs 

Distributors are vital partners in accelerating clean energy, so meeting their business needs is a top priority. Designed with direct participation from some of the country’s leading distributors, EVOLVE Midstream enables distributors to provide point-of-sale incentives, while accelerating reimbursement, minimizing risk of invalid incentives and automatically tracking impact against energy program goals.   

As the energy industry evolves, we are continually integrating distributor feedback to drive ongoing enhancements. In 2018, I’m pleased to say we were awarded the Impact Award by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance for our ComEd midstream program, which is the largest midstream program in the US. Here’s a quick excerpt: 

“The ComEd Energy Efficiency Program introduced a midstream lighting program, Instant Discounts, to its C&I customers in 2011 to promote energy efficiency and increase participation by removing prescriptive paperwork barriers. The program has a market-friendly approach that works for ComEd customers and lighting distributors. Instant Discounts is a tremendous success – saving an estimated 1,056 GWh over the past five years – and acts as a gateway to future projects that help customers save energy.” 

Removing the friction from administrative processes and providing insights for market success are critical to elevating distributor participation. To learn more, visit the EVOLVE Midstream landing page or reach out for a demo.

10/21/2020 8:00:00 AM

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Leo Sommaripa

Leo Sommaripa

Senior Consultant, Business Development